COLUMBUS -- Don't let the soft smile and gentle demeanor deceive you. That's the nurse in Sarah Mignin.
The volleyball player standing there is made of grit and determination, with a discreet sprinkling of recklessness. She is a captain for the No. 23 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and plays the libero position.
That's a loose combination of a baseball catcher and a basketball point guard, with the tenacity of a middle linebacker. And the fearlessness of a hockey goalie.
"We might be out there in spandex shorts and we might fix our hair a little before the match, but this is not a little, dainty sport," Mignin said yesterday at OSU's historic St. John Arena before the Buckeyes took to the road for tonight's match with No. 9 Penn State.
"The libero in volleyball -- we usually have a [tough] mentality. When we're on the court, the ball never touches the ground. You throw your body around -- that's the job description."
While the senior nursing student comes in through the employee entrance to work in the surgical intensive care unit at the OSU Medical Center, administering non-stop compassion as a patient care associate, this is no Florence Nightingale on the volleyball court.
"When the coach tells you to 'get out there with your helmet on' that's not a big exaggeration," Mignin said. "In volleyball, the average play lasts about seven seconds, and for that seven-second period you play with nothing but intensity and focus. You hit the floor without even thinking about it, or the possible consequences."
Those stitches currently closing a cut on Mignin's knee are the latest evidence of that approach to the game. There was also a high ankle sprain late last season, the result of a collision with a teammate and the nasty fall that followed.
That incident earned Mignin a horizontal exit from the court, laid out on a gurney. An ambulance ride finished her most-recent trip through the patient's entrance at the med center.
The ankle ballooned with inflammation and took on plenty of color, but Mignin rehabbed in the express lane and was quickly back with the Buckeyes, competing in the NCAA Tournament.
"When you get to your junior and senior year in college, you realize this is it. You don't have that many volleyball matches left, so you don't want to miss a minute," said the Sylvania Northview grad and two-time, first-team All-Northern Lakes League player for the Wildcats.
"Her drive is number one -- that's what got her to Ohio State," said Jodi Schramm, who coached Mignin for three years at Premier Academy in Maumee. "The kids that get to a high level of the sport are extremely tough mentally, and that definitely applies to Sarah."
Mignin, who played outside hitter for two seasons at Northview before moving to libero, had received recruiting interest from Cleveland State, Ohio University, and several other schools, but on a whim sent Ohio State an email introducing herself and expressing an interest in playing for the Buckeyes.
When the Ohio State coach at the time retired with the program struggling, Geoff Carlston from OU was hired to resurrect the Buckeyes' fortunes. Mignin willingly became part of that project.
"I really liked the idea of trying to build a new program and get Ohio State back on top," she said. "Volleyball in the Big Ten is the best of the best, so you can never take a point off. You have to fight and scratch your way for everything you get, and I kind of like that."
Named to the all-tournament team at the University of Toledo Rocket Classic won by the Buckeyes in September, Mignin has been twice honored this season by the Big Ten this season as its defensive player of the week.
She said she believes that the Buckeyes (14-7 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) have the potential to contend for the conference championship and make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With seven teams currently ranked in the top 25, the competition in the Big Ten will prepare them, she said.
"I still think the Big Ten is wide open, because there are so many really good teams," she said. "We're in the mix, and as a captain I want to do everything I can to help Ohio State get up near the top. We've had some success, but there are much bigger prizes ahead."
Mignin said her lengthy association with the sport, which started back in the sixth grade, has provided her with some lessons that she expects will serve her well in her nursing career and in life beyond Ohio State.
"Volleyball at the highest level in college is a tough sport. It challenges you constantly, mentally and physically," Mignin said. "Volleyball is a game of errors. You play it every day, trying to see how close to perfect you can get. That's a good way to approach everything."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.